I climb the hill above Berkeley and eat an orange. At the top, past the UC Botanical Gardens, I reach the peak overlooking Berkeley and Oakland and San Francisco. I can see the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun splashes into the Bay. I just finished reading Dharma Bums. I bet Kerouac has been here. I fold down the back seats and sleep through thunder and heavy rain as patches of clouds drift by and obscure or reveal the twinkling city lights below.
Sun rise, I rise, descend the hill and back through Berkeley streets down Telegraph Road and past People’s Park where I see people living in the trees. Across the Bay Bridge, the sun hangs low just beneath a blanket of gloom, orange ricocheting against the choppy gray Bay water. Back into SF for a delightful vegetarian lunch with Erica involving pesto and tomato and mozzarella and some great conversation. This is when I drove down to Palo Alto to visit Kathi and Karen.
* * *
And then I continue south down Highway 1. Kenza calls as I glide through the cliffs. As much as I disparage technology, our lovely phones enable us to chat from 6000 miles away.
Along an open stretch of road cutting through fields, I see a guy sitting on a pack with his thumb up. I sigh as I fly past. Two minutes later I pull over and sit in the car, debating with myself. I decide to turn around and drive past again, just to get a better look at the guy. He’s still there as I go by. I whiz past, and then I turn back around. I really can’t tell. I decide to pull over and tell him that I can’t offer him a ride, but I’ve got some oranges and some water if he wants any.
I pull over a few feet ahead of his pack, and I climb out of my car. He’s on the phone as I approach. “Hang on, mom—” he says. He smiles and looks at me hopefully. It turns out that this guy is on his way down from Santa Cruz. He’s been out here for six hours. He is trying to get down to San Luis Obispo to see his mom for the holidays. I see a guitar lying on the ground next to his pack, and I make a snap decision and invite him into the car. He puts the phone back up to his ear. “Never mind, Mom. I got a ride! I’ll call you in a little while.” He only asks me to take him five miles down to a junction that will lead to Salinas, from where he can pick up the 101.
His name is Walt. As we drive, he thanks me over and over again. He was about to give up. He was just calling his mom to say that he didn’t think he would be able to make it home for Christmas. I give him a paper bag with some fruit and granola bars, and he tells me about his situation. He’s been struggling with health problems for the last year, and expensive treatments have forced him out of his home, his car, and most of his possessions. He’s a musician, but he had to sell all of his gear except this one guitar. This guy has a deep sadness about him. He talks about the friends he had up in Santa Cruz, the buddies he used to play music with. But when he got sick, suddenly there was nobody there to take care of him.
We reach the intersection, and I tell him that I’ll just take him the additional 10 miles to the 101 entrance. His smile makes the detour way more than worthwhile.
When I drop him off at the freeway and get out of the car to help him remove his bag and guitar from the backseat, he hugs me for a long time. “Thank you so much, man. This is just what I needed.” I pull out a marker from my bag and help him make a sign he can hold up to let people know he’s just trying to get home.
* * *
30 minutes later I am pulling into Monterey. I’ve never been here, but I’ve seen pictures of this place and when I was little, I fell in love with a videotaped documentary about the aquarium. I wander through the downtown area and sit on the curb with my guitar. I don’t even play songs—I just lean back against a wall and let my fingers do whatever they will. After about half an hour, I have enough money to buy a cheap dinner or an expensive cup of coffee.
I head to the other side of town when the afternoon grows late. I find the bench that was made for me; rocky coast, crashing waves, tidepools, shrieking seagulls, salty scent, ocean sunset colors. Is it possible for a place to be home just because you’ve dreamed about it for so long? The sky melts into the sea and I feel home right now.
I decide to check into a hostel for the first time on this trip. I could use a hot shower and a bed and I’m hoping to meet some fellow travelers. Nobody else is there when I arrive, but the receptionist tells me there will be ten others staying the night. I grab my bag and walk down the street towards a café where I will do some artwork on the side of a new pair of shoes I picked up at a thrift store in Santa Cruz.
I walk into Starbucks and look around as the barista greets me. I tell her that this is the coziest Starbucks I’ve ever been in, which is true, and she is touched and offers me a free coffee. A few people actually come up to me as I draw and ask about the shoes. I listen to music, sketch, write, and people watch, and I can feel myself slowing down. I have nowhere to be for hours. I’m on my own time now.